- 19,00 kr
"Stand to, you rocket wash!"
A harsh, bull-throated roar thundered over the platform of the monorail station at Space Academy and suddenly the lively chatter and laughter of more than a hundred boys was stilled. Tumbling out of the gleaming monorail cars, they froze to quick attention, their eyes turned to the main exit ramp.
They saw a short, squat, heavily built man, wearing the scarlet uniform of the enlisted Solar Guard, staring down at them, his fists jammed into his hips and his feet spread wide apart. He stood there a moment, his sharp eyes flicking over the silent clusters, then slowly sauntered down the ramp toward them with a strangely light, catfooted tread.
"Form up! Column of fours!"
Almost before the echoes of the thunderous voice died down, the scattered groups of boys had formed themselves into four ragged lines along the platform.
The scarlet-clad figure stood before them, his seamed and weather-beaten face set in stern lines. But there was a glint of laughter in his eyes as he noticed the grotesque and sometimes tortuous positions of some of the boys as they braced themselves in what they considered a military pose.
Every year, for the last ten years, he had met the trains at the monorail station. Every year, he had seen boys in their late teens, gathered from Earth, Mars and Venus, three planets millions of miles apart. They were dressed in many different styles of clothes; the loose flowing robes of the lads from the Martian deserts; the knee-length shorts and high stockings of the boys from the Venusian jungles; the vari-colored jacket and trouser combinations of the boys from the magnificent Earth cities. But they all had one thing in common—a dream. All had visions of becoming Space Cadets, and later, officers in the Solar Guard. Each dreamed of the day when he would command rocket ships that patrolled the space lanes from the outer edges of Pluto to the twilight zone of Mercury. They were all the same.
"All right now! Let's get squared away!" His voice was a little more friendly now. "My name's McKenny—Mike McKenny. Warrant Officer—Solar Guard. See these hash marks?"
He suddenly held out a thick arm that bulged against the tight red sleeve. From the wrists to the elbow, the lines of boys could see a solid corrugation of white V-shaped stripes.
"Each one of these marks represents four years in space," he continued. "There's ten marks here and I intend making it an even dozen! And no bunch of Earthworms is going to make me lose the chance to get those last two by trying to make a space monkey out of me!"
McKenny sauntered along the line of boys with that same strange catlike step and looked squarely into the eyes of each boy in turn.
"Just to keep the record straight, I'm your cadet supervisor. I handle you until you either wash out and go home, or you finally blast off and become spacemen. If you stub your toe or cut your finger, come to me. If you get homesick, come to me. And if you get into trouble"—he
paused momentarily—"don't bother because I'll be looking for you, with a fist full of demerits!"
McKenny continued his slow inspection of the ranks, then suddenly stopped short. At the far end of the line, a tall, ruggedly built boy of about eighteen, with curly brown hair and a pleasant, open face, was stirring uncomfortably. He slowly reached down toward his right boot and held it, while he wriggled his foot into it. McKenny quickly strode over and planted himself firmly in front of the boy.
"When I say stand to, I mean stand to!" he roared.
The boy jerked himself erect and snapped to attention.
"I—I'm sorry, sir," he stammered. "But my boot—it was coming off and—"
"I don't care if your pants are falling down, an order's an order!"
The boy gulped and reddened as a nervous titter rippled through the ranks. McKenny spun around and glared. There was immediate silence.
"What's your name?" He turned back to the boy.
"Corbett, sir. Cadet Candidate Tom Corbett," answered the boy.
"Wanta be a spaceman, do ya?" asked Mike, pushing his jaw out another inch.
"Been studying long hard hours in primary school, eh? Talked your mother and father deaf in the ears to let you come to Space Academy and be a spaceman! You want to feel those rockets bucking in your back out in the stars? EH?"
"Yes, sir," replied Tom, wondering how this man he didn't even know could know so much about him.
"Well, you won't make it if I ever catch you disobeying orders again!"
McKenny turned quickly to see what effect he had
created on the others. The lines of bewildered faces satisfied him that his old trick of using one of the cadets as an example was a success. He turned back to Corbett.
"The only reason I'm not logging you now is because you're not a Space Cadet yet—and won't be, until you've taken the Academy oath!"
McKenny walked down the line and across the platform to an open teleceiver booth. The ranks were quiet and motionless, and as he made his call, McKenny smiled. Finally, when the tension seemed unbearable, he roared, "At ease!" and closed the door of the booth.
The ranks melted immediately and the boys fell into chattering clusters, their voices low, and they occasionally peered over their shoulders at Corbett as if he had suddenly been stricken with a horrible plague.
Brooding over the seeming ill-fortune that had called McKenny's attention to him at the wrong time, Tom sat down on his suitcase to adjust his boot. He shook his head slowly. He had heard Space Academy was tough, tougher than any other school in the world, but he didn't expect the stern discipline to begin so soon.
"This could be the beginning of the end," drawled a lazy voice in back of Tom, "for some of the more enthusiastic cadets." Someone laughed.
Tom turned to see a boy about his own age, weight and height, with close-cropped blond hair that stood up brushlike all over his head. He was lounging idly against a pillar, luggage piled high around his feet. Tom recognized him immediately as Roger Manning, and his pleasant features twisted into a scowl.
"About what I'd expect from that character," he thought, "after the trick he pulled on Astro, that big fellow from Venus."
Tom's thoughts were of the night before, when the
connecting links of transportation from all over the Solar Alliance had deposited the boys in the Central Station at Atom City where they were to board the monorail express for the final lap to Space Academy.
Manning, as Tom remembered it, had taken advantage of the huge Venusian by tricking him into carrying his luggage. Reasoning that since the gravity of Venus was considerably less than that of Earth, he convinced Astro that he needed the extra weight to maintain his balance. It had been a cheap trick, but no one had wanted to challenge the sharpness of Manning's tongue and come to Astro's rescue. Tom had wanted to, but refrained when he saw that Astro didn't mind.
Finishing his conversation on the teleceiver, McKenny stepped out of the booth and faced the boys again.
"All right," he bawled. "They're all set for you at the Academy! Pick up your gear and follow me!" With a quick light step, he hopped on the rolling slidewalk at the edge of the platform and started moving away.
"Hey, Astro!" Roger Manning stopped the huge boy about to step over. "Going to carry my bags?"
The Venusian, a full head taller, hesitated and looked doubtfully at the four suitcases at Roger's feet.
"Come on," prodded Roger in a tone of mock good nature. "The gravity around here is the same as in Atom City. It's the same all over the face of the Earth. Wouldn't want you to just fly away." He snickered and looked around, winking broadly.
Astro still hesitated, "I don't know, Manning. I—uhh—"
"By the rings of Saturn! What's going on here?" Suddenly from outside the ring of boys that had gathered around, McKenny came roaring in, bulling his way to the center of the group to face Roger and Astro.
"I have a strained wrist, sir," began Roger smoothly.
"And this cadet candidate"—he nodded casually toward Astro—"offered to carry my luggage. Now he refuses."
Mike glared at Astro. "Did you agree to carry this man's luggage?"
"Well—I—ah—" fumbled Astro.
"Well? Did you or didn't you?"
"I guess I sorta did, sir," replied Astro, his face turning a slow red.
"I don't hold with anyone doing another man's work, but if a Solar Guard officer, a Space Cadet, or even a cadet candidate gives his word he'll do something, he does it!" McKenny shook a finger in Astro's face, reaching up to do it. "Is that clear?"
"Yes, sir," was the embarrassed reply.
McKenny turned to Manning who stood listening, a faint smile playing on his lips.
"What's your name, Mister?"
"Manning. Roger Manning," he answered easily.
"So you've got a strained wrist, have you?" asked Mike mockingly while sending a sweeping glance from top to bottom of the gaudy colored clothes.
"Can't carry your own luggage, eh?"
"Yes," answered Roger evenly. "I could carry my own luggage. I thought the candidate from Venus might give me a helping hand. Nothing more. I certainly didn't intend for him to become a marked man for a simple gesture of comradeship." He glanced past McKenny toward the other boys and added softly, "And comradeship is the spirit of Space Academy, isn't it, sir?"
His face suddenly crimson, McKenny spluttered, searching for a ready answer, then turned away abruptly.
"What are you all standing around for?" he roared. "Get your gear and yourselves over on that slidewalk!
Blast!" He turned once again to the rolling platform. Manning smiled at Astro and hopped nimbly onto the slidewalk after McKenny, leaving his luggage in a heap in front of Astro.
"And be careful with that small case, Astro," he called as he drifted away.
"Here, Astro," said Tom. "I'll give you a hand."
"Never mind," replied Astro grimly. "I can carry 'em."
"No, let me help." Tom bent over—then suddenly straightened. "By the way, we haven't introduced ourselves. My name's Corbett—Tom Corbett." He stuck out his hand. Astro hesitated, sizing up the curly-headed boy in front of him, who stood smiling and offering friendship. Finally he pushed out his own hand and smiled back at Tom.
"Astro, but you know that by now."
"That sure was a dirty deal Manning gave you."
"Ah, I don't mind carrying his bags. It's just that I wanted to tell him he's going to have to send it all back. They don't allow a candidate to keep more than a toothbrush at the Academy."
"Guess he'll find out the hard way."
Carrying Manning's luggage as well as their own, they finally stepped on the slidewalk and began the smooth easy ride from the monorail station to the Academy. Both having felt the sharpness of Manning's tongue, and both having been dressed down by Warrant Officer McKenny, they seemed to be linked by a bond of trouble and they stood close together for mutual comfort.
As the slidewalk whisked them silently past the few remaining buildings and credit exchanges that nestled around the monorail station, Tom gave thought to his new life.
Ever since Jon Builker, the space explorer, returning
from the first successful flight to a distant galaxy, came through his home town near New Chicago twelve years before, Tom had wanted to be a spaceman. Through high school and the New Chicago Primary Space School where he had taken his first flight above Earth's atmosphere, he had waited for the day when he would pass his entrance exams and be accepted as a cadet candidate in Space Academy. For no reason at all, a lump rose in his throat, as the slidewalk rounded a curve and he saw for the first time, the gleaming white magnificence of the Tower of Galileo. He recognized it immediately from the hundreds of books he had read about the Academy and stared wordlessly.
"Sure is pretty, isn't it?" asked Astro, his voice strangely husky.
"Yeah," breathed Tom in reply. "It sure is." He could only stare at the shimmering tower ahead.
"It's all I've ever wanted to do," said Tom at length. "Just get out there and—be free!"
"I know what you mean. It's the greatest feeling in the world."
"You say that as if you've already been up there."
Astro grinned. "Yup. Used to be an enlisted space sailor. Bucked rockets in an old freighter on the Luna City—Venusport run."
"Well, what are you doing here?" Tom was amazed and impressed.
"Simple. I want to be an officer. I want to get into the Solar Guard and handle the power-push in one of those cruisers."
Tom's eyes glowed with renewed admiration for his new friend. "I've been out four or five times but only in jet boats five hundred miles out. Nothing like a jump to Luna City or Venusport."
By now the slidewalk had carried them past the base of the Tower of Galileo to a large building facing the
Academy quadrangle and the spell was broken by McKenny's bull-throated roar.
"Haul off, you blasted polliwogs!"
As the boys jumped off the slidewalk, a cadet, dressed in the vivid blue that Tom recognized as the official dress of the Senior Cadet Corps, walked up to McKenny and spoke to him quietly. The warrant officer turned back to the waiting group and gave rapid orders.
"By twos, follow Cadet Herbert inside and he'll assign you to your quarters. Shower, shave if you have to and can find anything to shave, and dress in the uniform that'll be supplied you. Be ready to take the Academy oath at"—he paused and glanced at the senior cadet who held up three fingers—"fifteen hundred hours. That's three o'clock. All clear? Blast off!"
Just as the boys began to move, there was a sudden blasting roar in the distance. The noise expanded and rolled across the hills surrounding Space Academy. It thundered over the grassy quadrangle, vibrating waves of sound one on top of the other, until the very air quivered under the impact.
Mouths open, eyes popping, the cadet candidates stood rooted in their tracks and stared as, in the distance, a long, thin, needlelike ship seemed to balance delicately on a column of flame, then suddenly shoot skyward and disappear.
"Pull in your eyeballs!" McKenny's voice crackled over the receding thunder. "You'll fly one of those firecrackers some day. But right now you're Earthworms, the lowest form of animal life in the Academy!"
As the boys snapped to attention again, Tom thought he caught a faint smile on Cadet Herbert's face as he stood to one side waiting for McKenny to finish his tirade. Suddenly he snapped his back straight, turned sharply and stepped through the wide doors of the building. Quickly the double line of boys followed.
"Did you see that, Astro?" asked Tom excitedly. "That was a Solar Guard patrol ship!"
"Yeah, I know," replied Astro. The big candidate from Venus scratched his chin and eyed Tom bashfully. "Say, Tom—ah, since we sort of know each other, how about us trying to get in the same quarters?"
"O.K. by me, Astro, if we can," said Tom, grinning back at his friend.
The line pressed forward to Cadet Herbert, who was now waiting at the bottom of the slidestairs, a mesh belt that spiraled upward in a narrow well to the upper stories of the building. Speaking into an audioscriber, a machine that transmitted his spoken words into typescript, he repeated the names of the candidates as they passed.
"Cadet Candidate Tom Corbett," announced Tom, and Herbert repeated it into the audioscriber.
"Cadet Candidate Astro!" The big Venusian stepped forward.
"What's the rest of it, Mister?" inquired Herbert.
"That's all. Just Astro."
"No other names?"
"No, sir," replied Astro. "You see—"
"You don't say 'sir' to a senior cadet, Mister. And we're not interested in why you have only one name!" Herbert snapped.
"Yes, sir—uhh—Mister." Astro flushed and joined Tom.
"Cadet Candidate Philip Morgan," announced the next boy.
Herbert repeated the name into the machine, then announced, "Cadet Candidates Tom Corbett, Astro, and Philip Morgan assigned to Section 42-D."
Turning to the three boys, he indicated the spiraling slidestairs. "Forty-second floor. You'll find Section D in the starboard wing."
Astro and Tom immediately began to pile Manning's luggage to one side of the slidestairs.
"Take your luggage with you, Misters!" snapped Herbert.
"It isn't ours," replied Tom.
"Isn't yours?" Herbert glanced over the pile of suitcases and turned back to Tom. "Whose is it then?"
"Belongs to Cadet Candidate Roger Manning," replied Tom.
"What are you doing with it?"
"We were carrying it for him."
"Do we have a candidate in the group who finds it necessary to provide himself with valet service?"
Herbert moved along the line of boys.
"Will Cadet Candidate Roger Manning please step forward?"
Roger slid from behind a group of boys to face the senior cadet's cold stare.
"Roger Manning here," he presented himself smoothly.
"Is that your luggage?" Herbert jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
Roger smiled confidently, but Herbert merely stared coldly.
"You have a peculiar attitude for a candidate, Manning."
"Is there a prescribed attitude, Mr. Herbert?" Roger asked, his smile broadening. "If there is, I'll be only too glad to conform to it."
Herbert's face twitched almost imperceptibly. Then he nodded, made a notation on a pad and returned to his post at the head of the gaping line of boys. "From now on, Candidate Manning, you will be responsible for your own belongings."
Tom, Astro, and Philip Morgan stepped on the slidestairs
and began their spiraling ascent to the forty-second floor.
"I saw what happened at the monorail station," drawled the third member of Section 42-D, leaning against the bannister of the moving belt. "By the craters of Luna, that Manning felluh sure is a hot operator."
"We found out for ourselves," grunted Astro.
"Say, since we're all bunkin' togethuh, let's get to knowin' each othuh. My name's Phil Morgan, come from Georgia. Where you all from?"
"New Chicago," replied Tom. "Name's Tom Corbett. And this is Astro."
"Hiya." Astro stuck out a big paw and grinned his wide grin. "I guess you heard. Astro's all the name I've got."
"How come?" inquired the Southerner.
"I'm from Venus and it's a custom from way back when Venus was first colonized to just hand out one name."
"Funny custom," drawled Phil.
Astro started to say something and then stopped, clamping his lips together. Tom could see his face turn a slow pink. Phil saw it too, and hastily added:
"Oh—I didn't mean anything. I—ah—" he broke off, embarrassed.
"Forget it, Phil." Astro grinned again.
"Say," interjected Tom. "Look at that!"
They all turned to look at the floor they were passing. Near the edge of the step-off platform on the fourth floor was an oaken panel, inscribed with silver lettering in relief. As they drew even with the plaque, they caught sight of someone behind them. They turned to see Manning, the pile of suitcases in front of him, reading aloud.
" ... to the brave men who sacrificed their lives in the conquest of space, this Galaxy Hall is dedicated...."
"Say, this must be the museum," said Tom. "Here's where they have all the original gear used in the first space hops."
"Absolutely right," said Manning with a smile.
"I wonder if we could get off and take a look?" Astro asked.
"Sure you can," said Roger. "In fact, the Academy regs say every cadet must inspect the exhibits in the space museum within the first week."
The members of Section 42-D looked at Roger questioningly.
"I don't know if we have time." Tom was dubious.
"Sure you have—plenty. I'd hop off and take a look myself but I've got to get this junk ready to ship home." He indicated the pile of bags in front of him.
"Aw, come on, Tom, let's take a look!" urged Astro. "They have the old Space Queen in here, the first ship to clear Earth's gravity. Boy, I'd sure like to see her!" Without waiting for the others to agree, the huge candidate stepped off the slidestairs.
"Hey, Astro!" yelled Tom. "Wait! I don't think—" His voice trailed off as the moving stair carried him up to the next floor.
But then a curious thing happened. As other boys came abreast of the museum floor and saw Astro they began to get off and follow him, wandering around gazing at the relics of the past.
Soon nearly half of the cadet candidates were standing in silent awe in front of the battered hull of the Space Queen, the first atomic-powered rocket ship allowed on exhibition only fifty years before because of the deadly radioactivity in her hull, created when a lead baffle melted in midspace and flooded the ship with murderous gamma rays.
They stood in front of the spaceship and listened while Astro, in a hushed voice, read the inscription on the bronze tablet.
"—Earth to Luna and return. 7th March 2051. In honor of the brave men of the first atomic-powered spaceship to land successfully on the planet Moon, only to perish on return to Earth...."
Like a clap of thunder Warrant Officer McKenny's voice jarred the boys out of their silence. He stepped forward like a bantam rooster and faced the startled group of boys.
"I wanna know just one thing! Who stepped off that slidestairs first?"
The boys all hesitated.
"I guess I was the first, sir," said Astro, stepping forward.
"Oh, you guess you were, eh?" roared McKenny.
Taking a deep breath McKenny launched into a blistering tirade. His choice of words were to be long remembered by the group and repeated to succeeding classes. Storming against the huge Venusian like a pygmy attacking an elephant, McKenny roared, berated and blasted.
Later, when Astro finally reached his quarters and changed into the green coveralls of the cadet candidates, Tom and Phil crowded around him.
"It was Roger, blast him!" said Tom angrily. "He was getting back at you because Cadet Herbert made him carry his own gear."
"I asked for it," grumbled Astro. "Ah, I should've known better. But I just couldn't wait to see the Queen." He balled his huge hands into tight knots and stared at the floor.
"Now hear this!!!"
A voice suddenly rasped over the PA system loud-speaker
above the door. "All cadet candidates will come to attention to receive the Space Academy oath from Commander Walters." The voice paused. "AT-TENT-SHUN! Cadet candidates—Staaaaannnnd TO!"
"This is Commander Walters speaking!" A deep, powerful voice purred through the speaker. "The Academy oath is taken individually.
"It is something each candidate locks in his spirit, his mind and his heart. That is why it is taken in your quarters. The oath is not a show of color, it is a way of life. Each candidate will face as closely as possible in the direction of his home and swear by his own individual God as he repeats after me."
Astro stepped quickly to the window port and gazed into the blue heavens, eyes searching out the misty planet Venus. Phil Morgan thought a moment, and faced toward the wall with the inlaid star chart of the sky, thinking of sun-bathed Georgia. Tom Corbett stared straight at a blank wall.
Each boy did not see what was in front of him yet he saw further, perhaps, than he had ever seen before. He looked into a future which held the limitlessness of the universe and new worlds and planets to be lifted out of the oblivion of uncharted depths of space to come.
They repeated slowly....
" ... I solemnly swear to uphold the Constitution of the Solar Alliance, to obey interplanetary law, to protect the liberties of the planets, to safeguard the freedom of space and to uphold the cause of peace throughout the universe ... to this end, I dedicate my life!"